Arlington Park is known for its grass course, and the first grass stakes of the meet is slated for Saturday May 26. The Arlington Classic is its name, and it's for three year old males at 1 1/16 miles on the sod. It carries a purse of $125,000. But once upon a time it was a graded stakes. It's now a listed (ungraded) stakes and the last time it carried a grade was 2007. It even plays second fiddle on May 26 to the G3 Arlington Matron.
And once upon a time, the race had attracted corporate sponsorship from Pontiac and from 1971-73 it was the Pontiac Grand Prix stakes.
And once upon a time (when on dirt), it would attract some of the best three year olds in the country. The winners' list is peppered with Hall of Famers like Nashua, Native Dancer, Dr. Fager, Ack Ack, and Alydar.
On turf it’s given us winners like eventual G1 winners Hawk Attack and (sigh) Giant Oak.
The Arlington Classic now serves as a feeder race to the American Derby in mid-July, a three-year-old race on grass that serves as one of the pieces of the triple-bill known as Arlington Million Preview Day. And that day serves as a steppingstone to the Arlington International Festival of Racing, with three Grade One races--the Secretariat Stakes (to which the American Derby feeds into), the Beverly D., and the Arlington Million. Think of the Arlington Classic as a feeder to the feeder.
The three race sequence of the Arlington Classic, Mid American Derby, and the Secretariat now constitutes the Mid America Triple. In 2009 a bonus of $500,000 was offered to any horse that swept this series of three races, something that has been only done once, by Honor Glide in 1997, in the all-grass set up of these races.
( Honor Glide winning the 1997 Secretariat. Photo courtesy Fanlew Farms.)
Once upon a time the Mid America Triple had some zest. Isn’t zest in aisle four of the local CVS?
Now, readers, the title of this article is "How to Save the Mid America Triple". So how is it going to be saved? First, let's diagnose the problems.
- Unusual spacing. It's six weeks from the (listed) Arlington Classic to the G3 American Derby, then four weeks from the American Derby to the G1 Secretariat. During the Triple Crown series, races like the Oaklawn feeders to the G1 Arkansas Derby (Smarty Jones Stakes, G3 Southwest, G2 Rebel) are an equal amount of time (4 weeks) apart.
- The Virginia Derby. Run the same day as the American Derby, it has a purse significantly higher and a higher grade. The Virginia Derby's Grade Two status and $600,000 purse easily trump the Grade 3 status and $200,000 purse of the American Derby. In fact, the American Derby this year was (rightfully) knocked out of the G2 rung, a result of the Virginia Derby stealing the American Derby’s spotlight.
- No Bonus. Recall that in 2009, a half-million dollar bonus was created to horses that swept the three legs of the mid-American Triple. That bonus will not be available for the 2012 renewal.
Now as a reader, you might be saying this.
"Okay, mister blogger person on Chicago horse racing. You've told about the race, you've thrown rocks at it. How can it be fixed?"
Well, Readers, here's How to Save the Mid America Triple:
- Better Spacing. Use the race--four weeks--race--four weeks--race strategy. It does mean taking the Arlington Classic away from the Memorial Day holiday weekend, a weekend sure to see an influx of punters and fans at Arlington. You already have the Arlington Matron to entertain them. You could adjust the spacing to five weeks between the races, but it should be uniform.
- More money. Let's make it rain, folks. Throwing money at stakes races has been an effective way to give boost prestige and popularity of races. It was even indirectly twined to the concept to the first Arlington Million, as one million dollars was a lot of cash back in the early eighties. More recently, look at the Charles Town Classic, a million-dollar race in eastern West Virginia. That race went from a half million dollar listed stakes to a million dollar Grade 2 in four years. It drew a quality field of handicap runners this year, and last year featured the 1-2-3 nominees in Older Male Handicap Eclipse voting. Not bad.
- A new day. Sure we can spend big money, but let's also spend the money smartly. Package the Arlington Classic along with another race for older males on the turf going around a mile, and another stakes for older females on the turf going around a mile and run all three stakes on the same card. You'd be creating another triple-bill day. The naming wouldn't take much, too. Call the older male stakes the Sea O' Erin, as it fits the conditions and is being run as an overnight stakes on June 9 this year. You've run this mile race before, so use it to feed into the Arlington Handicap and then the Arlington Million. As for the females, let's name it for Estrapade, the only female to win the Arlington Million, doing it in 1986. Our created race would feed into the Modesty and then to the Beverly D. The precedent to make this pattern isn't new; Fair Grounds Race Course in New Orleans has packaged a series of stakes (with its two feeders in parentheses) to feed into its biggest events: the Louisiana Derby (Lecomte Stakes, Risen Star Stakes), Muniz Memorial (E. R. Bradley Handicap, Fair Grounds Handicap), Fair Grounds Oaks (Silverbulletday Stakes, Rachel Alexandra Stakes), and New Orleans Handicap (Louisiana Handicap, Mineshaft Handicap).
- Bring back the bonus. To further add to the appeal, a bonus could be reinstated. Or the double-feeder system. Or both. But the bonus should be something worth going for. Make it one million dollars. You have a competitive bonus that can cast a larger net of competitors. You also attack the Virginia Derby’s drawing power. And having a million-dollar bonus feed into a day with the Arlington Million could be a marketing boon.
And with that readers, that is how you can save the Mid America Triple. It’s possible to make races like the Arlington Classic (and by extension, the American Derby) matter again. It’s possible to keep these grass races relevant through reinvention. But it’s possible to let the races fade away as well.